Thursday, October 14, 2010

Charles and Emma

Really, I don't remember a thing about Madame Bovary. Something about adultery. I remember being bored by it when I read it 22 years ago. I don't remember whether I admired Emma, despised or pitied her. I don't know which of those I'm supposed to do.

Well, it's very readable. (Except for the seemingly random italics — very distracting.) I don't know if that's a function of Lydia Davis's translation, or maybe just because over the years I've learned to read better (or I'm more tolerant, or more discerning). At any rate, it's not boring. I was really afraid it would be very boring. It's not.

[What's the deal with first communion? Was it different back in the day, or in France? Charles is 12 when he begins his studies, and his parents are waiting till after his first communion before sending him off. Later at the wedding, a girl of 14 or 16 is wearing her communion dress, lengthened for the occasion. I wouldn't've given it much thought but for that Davis includes a note about children usually aged about 7 being prepared for this sacrament. The French text is clearly "première communion" but it sounds like confirmation might be what's meant. Either way I think Davis's note is lacking.]

Charles seems like a nice enough fellow. A bit, mmm, unambitious, maybe, but harmless, nice. Oh, but Charles totally loves her!

Emma seems hard to reach, hard to know, through her placid exterior.

Aïe! The first wife's wedding bouquet still in the bedroom! How thoughtless! This must be a sign.

Before her marriage, she had believed that what she was experiencing was love; but since the happiness that should have resulted from that love had not come, she thought she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to find out just what was meant, in life, by the words "bliss," "passion," and "intoxication," which had seemed so beautiful to her in books.

Emma was ruined by romances, and the idea of grand gestures. (That's a weird passage, the shift to second person, "And you were there, too, you sultans...")

I love this sentence: "Charles's conversation was as flat as a sidewalk, and everyone's ideas walked along it in their ordinary clothes, without inspiring emotion, or laughter, or reverie." (Mind, sidewalks can be most interesting.)

Oh, she's not happy, is she? Bored, and attracted to shiny things. But I think there's a bit more to it than that, some kind of void she needs to fill. I do like her, and condemn her, and pity her.

Here ends Madame Bovary, Part 1.
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